Biggles – The Untold Story is an early computer game released during the success of its counterpart the Biggles movie that followed the life of a WWI British fighter pilot. It was initially developed for the Commodore 64, the highest-selling single computer model of all time according to history-computer. The magazine advertisement takes place inside Amstrad Action Issue 10. Amstrad was a long-running monthly magazine in the United Kingdom and during the 80’s was a popular place for finding the next big video game. The Biggles advertisement uses an entire page and its representation employs a multitude of advertising strategies.
In the advertisement, both text and images are used as the mediums of expression. At the top of the image, bold yellow words ask you “Do you want to be a hero?”.
These words are closely followed by images that encapsulate a WWI battle scene. There are pictures of planes fighting, soldiers shooting, and then walking through the clouds in the center of the ad is the daring British fighter pilot, Biggles. The advertisement leaves the reader feeling as though they’ve just been hit with military recruiting propaganda – a clear aim with the style of advertisement. But more importantly, I believe the attraction of such a video game centers around the ability to experience war without actually experiencing war. Just like children are obsessed with Call of Duty video games today, it seems to have been no different back then. Male youths love war, action, and the ability to be the hero. Knowing this fact, the ad would almost have certainly been targeting the younger male population. The time period also makes a lot of sense for the advertising style. As briefly mentioned earlier, the propaganda poster style would have been familiar to the male youth, as Cold War tensions were on the rise during the early 1980s. This was mainly due to the Soviet’s deployment of missiles with the ability to attack Western Europe. An article from Anna Christensen even recounts the Soviet’s disgust with the United States and their Cold War propaganda campaign. This both supports the idea that Cold War conflicts were in full swing and also alludes to the effectiveness of war propaganda during the time. The Soviets were scared the U.S. might swing American opinions so drastically with the propaganda that actual warfare might break out. Therefore, the Soviets released statements and the article was written attacking America’s propaganda campaign. And even though the advertisement and video game were based in Great Britain, and not the United States, and the Cold War was a U.S. conflict, war during the 20th century was a foreign topic to no one and Cold War tensions affected everyone.
Now, diving into the direct advertising strategies inside the article, there are plenty. The briefly discussed bold yellow words aim to catch your attention and stand out against the chaotic background. By asking the question, “Do you want to be a hero?” the words also contribute to feelings of patriotism and glory that all young men crave. What young boy doesn’t want to be a hero? Under the yellow words exists Biggles, the British fighter pilot in his war attire and standing almost on top of his name which lights up the page with big red cursive-looking letters. I quickly want to mention that Biggles and his red name are both outlined with yellow hues, which makes it feel as if someone traced them with a highlighter.
This helps draw the reader’s attention down the page and into the final yellow box which carries the most important information and bulk of the advertisement’s words. Inside the yellow box, the reader is given background information on the development of the game all while using military diction such as “co-operation” and the playful metaphor, “Biggles – The Untold Story will knock you right out of the air!” The advertisement then finishes with the closing line, “In the air, on the rooftops, on the ground, or in the trenches, you can be a hero!” The final words of the line about being a hero stand out from the other words through bold red letters similar to the earlier hero statement. It is also important to talk about the background. Within the chaos of the scene, there are three planes and a helicopter that look to be in the heat of battle. The helicopter is being struck by lightning, a clear reference to German Blitzkrieg, and another appeal to the patriotism of the readers, as German lighting warfare was far more impactful to British citizens than any other event during the war. Something else I found interesting was the use of the London Bridge standing strong among the smoke and bombs. I think this has two effects one would have been its use as a symbol in the same way the American government used the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom in their own propaganda. It would have symbolized Great Britain’s strength to stand strong through the destruction and death that occurred during Blitzkrieg. The other effect would have merely been the fame of such a landmark would have caught the eye of readers flipping through the magazine. Overall the advertisement sticks to what it knows best. It aims to spark feelings of patriotism inside the reader that combine with the male love of war making it a great ad for the right reader.
The advertisement’s association with the personal computer is in the form of a video game. Thereby strongly associating values of excitement and entertainment with the personal computer. The computer game is represented as a form of online play whereby anyone with a computer can sit back and enjoy a WWI strategy game. The advertisement doesn’t try to define the game or put it in any sort of boundary. Instead, it minimizes words, emphasizes pictures, and lets the reader’s imagination do the rest. Since it is a computer game, the advertisement’s main objective is to try and show that the personal computer can do more than just office work, and in this case, it’s offering a fun escape from the real world. The article seems to have no intention of advertising to girls or women in general. As a part of representation, it’s also important to understand the rise of video games in the computer world during this time. An article from Jason Crisp in 1984 discusses BT’s (British Telecom) decision to sell computer games. The release of the Biggles video game 2 years later shows a clear effort by the developing company to profit off of a brand-new market. No matter how good or bad the game was they were going to sell copies as long as the advertisements were good.
Amstrad Action Issue 010. Internet Archive. (1986, July) https://archive.org/details/amstrad-action-010/mode/2up
Anna Christensen. “U.S. wages propaganda war: Soviet Union”. United Press International. December 14, 1983, Wednesday, PM cycle. https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:3SJB-DM40-001X-R2T3-00000-00&context=1516831.
Jason Crisp. “British Telecom to sell home computer games”. Financial Times (London,England). September 15, 1984, Saturday. https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:3S8H-4G40-000F-50P2-00000-00&context=1516831.
Staff, History Computer. “Commodore 64: Everything You Need to Know.” History-Computer, 31 July 2023, history-computer.com/commodore-64-guide/.